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E-file: Income Tax Return Electronic Filing

Updated for Tax Year 2018


OVERVIEW

Forget that paper tax return! Electronic filing (e-filing), online tax preparation and online payment of taxes are getting more popular every year. If you've wondered about e-filing, here are the answers to frequently asked questions, including why e-filing is a good idea, which states let you e-file, how much e-filing costs, and how soon you'll receive your refund.


Why e-file?

Here are some reasons why electronic filing makes sense for most taxpayers:

  • Fewer mistakes Using tax software such as TurboTax substantially reduces errors. According to the IRS, 20 percent of income tax returns prepared on paper have mistakes, such as missing information or taxes calculated using the wrong tax tables; half of those errors cause folks to overpay their taxes. But only about 1 percent of returns prepared electronically contain errors. If there is a mistake on your return, the IRS can detect it and send back an error report in as few as 48 hours so that you can quickly fix the problem.
  • Speedier preparation You can get the job done a lot faster if you tackle it with your computer. Filing from your computer saves you the trip to the post office, too.
  • Faster refunds If you send in your return by mail, you can expect to wait up to six weeks for your refund. E-filing your return and electing to have your refund deposited directly into your bank account is the fastest way to get your tax refund. If, however, you still prefer to send the IRS a paper return, TurboTax gives you that option.

How will I know that the IRS has received my tax return?

Ever worry that your return might get lost in the mail? E-filing lets you rest easy. When you send a return by mail, you have no way of knowing if the IRS received your return unless you pay extra for certified mail with a return receipt. It could take weeks for you to get that receipt.

But if you file electronically, the IRS notifies you by email within 48 hours that it has received your return. And if the IRS detects any errors, it will send an error code that TurboTax will translate into a text message telling you what the problem is, how to fix it, and how to retransmit your return.

Can I avoid having to file anything on paper?

You can save more trees than ever using e-file. You can now file a completely paperless return, right down to your signature. You can use a self-selected Personal Identification Number (PIN) just as you would at a bank ATM. The PIN is your electronic signature.

Can I e-file my state tax return, too?

The following 37 states and the District of Columbia allow you to e-file your state return at the same time you file your federal tax return online from your personal computer. This is called the Federal/State E-file for Taxpayers program. Essentially, you send both returns to the IRS, and the IRS electronically forwards your state return to the tax authority in your state.

Alabama Kansas North Dakota
Arizona Kentucky Ohio
Arkansas Louisiana Oklahoma
Colorado Maryland Oregon
Connecticut Michigan Pennsylvania
Delaware Mississippi Rhode Island
District of Columbia Missouri South Carolina
Georgia Montana Utah
Hawaii Nebraska Vermont
Idaho New Jersey Virginia
Illinois New Mexico West Virginia
Indiana New York Wisconsin
Iowa North Carolina

A few states allow you to file your state return directly, including California, Maine, Massachusetts and Minnesota.

Will my tax return data be kept confidential?

Yes. You've got no worries about data falling into the wrong hands or being misused because the IRS, the states and tax preparers are under the same rules of confidentiality for e-filed returns as they are for paper returns. They may not reveal or discuss any information contained in your return unless you authorize them to do so. Tax software developers also must operate under these rules, and they must protect customer confidentiality during the e-filing process. To ensure the integrity of your electronically filed tax return, always use only proven, high-quality e-filing software.

Can I e-file if I owe money?

Yes. You can still pay with a check sent via snail mail if you prefer. As long as the check is in the mail by the due date of your return the payment is considered to be on time. Or you can advise the IRS to debit your checking or savings account for the amount due. No matter when you file your return, you can tell the IRS not to tap your account until the due date. A third option is to charge the balance due to a credit card. This method will cost you extra money, though; you'll have to pay a "convenience fee" of about 2 percent to the third party that handles the transaction. States are gradually adding these options.

How much does it cost to e-file my return electronically?

If you're looking for an excuse not to e-file, it isn't cost, because the IRS and states do not charge for e-filing. The only costs associated with e-filing are those charged by a tax preparer or tax software. Depending on the software brand and version, electronic filing charges have ranged from free to around $25. Tax preparers may charge more.

If I'm getting a tax refund, when can I expect to receive it?

E-filing will deliver your tax refund much faster than traditional mail. Taxpayers using TurboTax and electing to have their refunds deposited directly into their bank accounts will get their fastest refunds possible.

Refunds from tax returns filed on paper can take up to six weeks, depending on the time of year you file your tax return.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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